The Blind Men (2017)

writing

A short story written during my trip to Jeju Island in South Korea.

The blind men

On one of my trips to southern France, concretely in the city of Albi, I randomly met a monk - well, not just any monk, but a true scholar. His name was Maxime Beaudouin, and he had spent years going through the local folklore studying a forgotten Christian cult known as les hommes aveugles, the blind men. They were originally Cathars who were later rejected as heretic because of their founding myth. Most of the literature about them didn’t survive the Albigensian crusade. In fact it is believed that the Cathars themselves had burned it all down well before then. Other accounts suggest that some texts were taken by Cathars and lie with the rest of le trésor cathar… Maxime considered that hypothesis almost impossible.

During his research he had come across a pretty unique theory: that the presumed author of The Book of Two Principles (considered the most important work of Cathar literature), John of Lugio, was secretly a fervent follower of the cult, and that he encoded their founding myth in that book with the hope that it would survive. Allegedly he constructed a series of numbers representing offsets from the first letter of the book, then from the letter after the first offset, and so on.

Maxime believed that the code had to be somewhere in Albi, and he also believed to have found fragments of it, through which he claimed to have reconstructed the myth (not without substantial help of references in other gnostic texts, as well as in conversations with local scholars). What I’m going to try to reproduce here here is his account of the founding myth of les hommes aveugles, as well as his own thoughts on it. Like the Cathars, this cult believed in two Gods: the spiritual or good God, and the material or evil God. Their myth is referred to as the blinding curse, as cast upon human kind by the latter, and it goes as follows.

Originally, all humans were blessed with perfect recall. They could remember every single moment of their lives, both in the past and in the future (it is noteworthy that a crucial distinction between the cult and Catharism was that the former conceived time as linear but not directional - the past was no different from the future). Thus, every human remembered every moment of its future up until their death. They were also incapable of conceiving anything that hadn’t been or wouldn’t be. That meant fear could not exist, because fear stems from uncertainty. There was nothing to fear, since everything was perfectly known. The material God then cast a curse upon human kind, whereby they could no longer remember perfectly. The blinding curse came with a bias: on one hand memories of the past appeared more clearly (yet still imperfect), but memories of the future appeared as branches of possible worlds with less than 100% probability. The further away in time, the more both past and future memories faded, and the more unreliable they became.

Humans were then stuck in the world amidst a thick fog, replaying their fragmented memories of their past (and altering them each time), in a futile hope of making sense of the hazy, infinitely branching, impossibly complex memories of their future. They lived in permanent fear.

But arguably the worst consequence of the curse was that, unlike before, humans could remember things with a probability of zero - they could imagine anything. Things that never once happened, and things that could never possibly happen. In their mind they could play the probable scenario of rain over their crops; with the same ease could they fabricate the image of their crops being made of gold, or the rain being but the tears of angels.

And just like the evil God knew would happen, humans soon started imagining there were no Gods.

Perhaps the most heretic idea that les hommes aveugles professed was that the blinding curse was indeed a blessing. Whereas before it we were only capable of sensing the material reality created by evil and the spiritual reality created by good, the curse completely freed us from the boundaries of reality, arguably freeing us from the Gods themselves.

As Maxime said those last words, I remember he paused reflexively. Long after I left I still think about it, and still cannot decide whether our blindness is a curse, a blessing, or perhaps both.